Kentucky Senator Rand Paul became the second major Republican presidential contender to enter the 2016 primary race when he announced his candidacy Tuesday in Louisville.
“I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our country back!” Paul said to a rousing reception.
Paul hopes to build on his support among libertarian and Tea Party activists to become a force in what promises to be a lengthy and potentially divisive battle for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination next year.
“We need to boldly proclaim our vision for America,” he said. “We need to go boldly forth under the banner of liberty that clutches the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other.”
Paul is a first-term senator who was elected in 2010 with Tea Party support, and who has blazed his own trail in the Senate ever since. He solidified a national following during a 2013 Senate filibuster with a nearly 13-hour speech critical of the Obama administration’s use of drones to target suspected terrorists abroad.
Paul’s plans to cut taxes, reduce the size of government and emphasize personal liberty should play well with Tea Party supporters looking for a candidate in the large Republican field.
“Remember that the roots of the Tea Party are economic conservatism, not social conservatism,” said Republican strategist Phillip Stutts, who once worked for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. “It is about less government. It is about cutting taxes. It is about getting sick and tired of [bank] bailouts.”
Paul also has reached out to minority voters and spoken at historically black colleges, another tact that sets him apart from the Republican field. He also favors liberalizing laws regarding marijuana.
Foreign policy views
Paul will get a lot of scrutiny on his foreign policy views. In the past, he has echoed his father in arguing against foreign military entanglements and endless war. Paul has modified his stance a bit in recent months by offering support for the U.S. airstrikes targeting the so-called Islamic State in Iraq.
In his announcement speech, Paul vowed to confront Islamic State if he’s elected president next year. “The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it. And not only will I name the enemy, I will do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind!”
But given the renewed focus on national security and countering terrorism abroad, Paul will need to reassure conservatives he is willing to use U.S. military force where needed, said Ford O’Connell, Republican strategist and conservative activist.
“The number one thing dogging Rand Paul right now is the fact that for American voters, unlike in previous presidential elections, national security is going to be right up there in the top two or three issues, and his libertarian stance is something that Rand Paul is going to have to overcome. He’s going to have to prove to folks that he is a reluctant warrior, not an isolationist.”
A conservative group already has issued a video attacking Paul for his foreign policy approach and accusing him of supporting President Barack Obama’s outreach to Iran.
Seeks broader appeal
Rand Paul can depend on a base of support from libertarian and Tea Party activists, but must find a way to broaden his appeal throughout the party. “He has a very, very strong following. It is very deep but it is not very wide and that is going to be his biggest thing,” said O’Connell, a veteran of the McCain presidential campaign in 2008.
Paul also hopes to appeal to social conservative evangelical Christian voters, although he will have competition from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Paul is 52 years old and an eye surgeon by profession. He continues to perform eye surgeries during annual visits to Central America.
Paul follows in the footsteps of his father, former congressman Ron Paul, who ran for president three times. Ron Paul ran as a libertarian candidate in 1988 and as a Republican in 2008 and 2012, demonstrating an ability to build a grass roots campaign organization that depended on fervent volunteers committed to the candidate and his push for a less powerful central government.